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Sidney Poitier has died at the age of 94, it was announced Friday, but the graceful and regal actor left behind a lifetime of legendary roles.
As Hollywood’s first Black movie star, and the first Black man to win the Oscar for best actor, Poitier was nominated for 40 awards and won 26. He also directed and produced many titles across a multidecade career.
Here are 12 of Poitier’s most memorable performances.
No Way Out (1950)
Like many of the films Poitier starred in, No Way Out was a film that touched on racial relations and tensions between Blacks and whites. In his feature film debut, Poitier plays Doctor Brooks, the first Black doctor at an urban hospital who must take care of racist patients. The film, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, was considered controversial at the time for graphically depicting racial violence.
The Defiant Ones (1958)
In this adventure drama directed by Stanley Kramer, Poitier plays a prisoner in the South who’s shackled together with a white convict (Tony Curtis), and together they escape. The two have to work together during their dangerous journey and discover they have more in common than they realized.
Poitier won two awards for his performance in The Defiant Ones: a BAFTA Award for best foreign actor, and a Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for best actor.
He was also nominated for his first Academy Award for best actor, a Golden Globe for best actor in a drama and a Laurel Award in the top male dramatic performance category.
A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
A Raisin in the Sun was adapted from the 1959 play of the same name by Lorraine Hansberry and directed by Daniel Petrie. The film follows an African American family on their quest to live a better life.
For his role as Walter Lee Younger, Poitier was nominated in the best actor in a drama category at the 1962 Golden Globes as well as a BAFTA Award for best foreign actor.
Lilies of the Field (1963)
In this comedy-drama adapted from a novel by William Edmund Barrett and directed by Ralph Nelson, Poitier plays a traveling handyman who runs into a group of nuns and helps them make their dreams of creating a chapel come true.
For his portrayal, Poitier became the first Black man to win an Oscar for best actor. He also won a Golden Globe for best actor in a drama.
A Patch of Blue (1965)
This film tells the story of an interracial relationship between a Black office worker (Poitier) and a blind white woman (Elizabeth Hartman), whose mother (Shelley Winters) plots to break the couple up. Scenes of Poitier and Hartman kissing were cut from the film — released amid the growing civil rights movement — when it was shown in some Southern theaters.
To Sir, With Love (1967)
In this British drama directed by James Clavell — one of three major films starring Poitier released in 1967 — the actor plays a recent graduate with a degree in engineering who can’t find work in his field, so he takes a job as a teacher at a London school for troubled children. There he finds a way to connect with the students like no teacher ever had before. Through his calmness, encouragement and positivity, he gains the respect of the students.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
In this mystery-drama directed by Norman Jewison, Poitier plays a Philadelphia-based police detective investigating a murder in a racially hostile town in the South.
Poitier’s performance earned him Golden Globe and BAFTA Award nominations, and he received second place at the Laurel Awards in the male dramatic performance category.
Also, Poitier’s defiant line, “They call me Mister Tibbs!” became one of the most famous quotes in cinema history.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
In perhaps his most iconic role, Poitier plays a doctor who is involved in an interracial relationship with a free-spirited white woman (Katharine Houghton). The film, directed by Stanley Kramer, depicts interracial marriage in a positive light at a time when interracial marriage was banned in more than a dozen states. It was a major box office hit.
Six months before the film’s release, the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional.
In 2005, the film was loosely remade into a movie titled Guess Who, starring Bernie Mac, Ashton Kutcher and Zoe Saldana, in which Kutcher plays a white man meeting his African American girlfriend’s family for the first time.
Separate But Equal (1991)
During his career, Poitier portrayed some real-life public figures. In this TV miniseries, he starred as civil rights activist and NAACP attorney (and future Supreme Court justice) Thurgood Marshall during the legendary lawyer’s 1954 landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, wherein the Supreme Court ruled that state laws establishing separate public schools for Black and white students were unconstitutional.
For his performance, Poitier earned a Golden Globe nomination for best performance by an actor in a miniseries or motion picture made for television and an Emmy nomination for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or a special.
While not a hugely acclaimed or socially important film — or a standout role — this hacker action-comedy was a modest box office success that introduced Poitier to a new generation. The actor plays a former CIA officer on a team of security specialists.
Mandela and de Klerk (1997)
Poitier played South African President Nelson Mandela in this Showtime movie that follows Mandela and F. W. de Klerk (Michael Caine) during their efforts to end apartheid in South Africa.
This role earned Poitier an Emmy nomination in 1997 for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or a special.
The Last Brickmaker in America (2001)
The Last Brickmaker in America was Poitier’s last acting role. The television movie follows Poitier as a man who deals with the loss of his wife and the obsolescence of his job before becoming a role model to a 13-year-old who is also lost in life.
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